GM's new Volt

Alternative energy sources
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The usual. As I have two large solar PV systems here, and my lab assistant just put one in, and others are interested in things like this, here's where that stuff goes. This is mostly for things that work now, not "gee someday a fusor will do this" -- we know that, but it's not someday yet.
The hope is to save anyone embarking on this sort of thing a lot of wasted time and money, as at least I have been off the grid since 1980 and have had a lot of practice (and made mistakes you won't have to).

GM's new Volt

Postby Doug Coulter » Mon Oct 17, 2011 1:26 pm

Been anticipating this one for a long while, and even bought the Cruze because I couldn't wait any longer for a good utilitarian, efficient car (and I do love it). But now the Volt is finally getting to where I live. In this case, Pinkerton Chevy in Salem VA got a couple, and knowing that I want one, I got to put the first miles on the one they have for sale. I instantly fell in love with it. Predisposition, some, but nope, it's truly nice. In my opinion, GM is the first to get the whole hybrid thing right. There are a heck of a lot of tradeoffs involved as anyone in alt energy knows, and it seems they hit them all pretty close to optimal. The Volt is an electric-only drivetrain, running off a rather huge battery pack (perfectly located for low CG and great handling), with an onboard generator - which isn't really a batter charger - those tradeoffs, which I'll get into below. First, some pics!
VoltOverall.jpg
Volt with Cruze in background

That's a new red Cruze in the background. The Volt's a little shorter and a little taller. Note the "picture of a grille" on the front - it doesn't really need much in the way of cooling air, and this is a little more aerodynamic. And here it is through the open back hatch with one of the rear seats (buckets!) folded down.
HatchView.jpg
Lots of very accessible room in there, it's also a 4 door, but this is the door you'd use for single large items. Pretty comfortable and nicely appointed in there. Here's a side view of the big door. That's my gold Cruze in front left.
HatchSide.jpg


Now most car guys look under the hood first (we've already shown that this has 4 wheel disc brakes - but they run off an electric hydraulic system, not engine vacuum). So here's that view.
Engine.jpg
Engines
On the left is a somewhat shrunken version of the Cruze engine (no turbo and so on). On the right is the top of the electric one, you could consider all those fat orange wires as its "intake manifold" - they are. That's 360v from the LiIon battery. There are a couple liquid cooling systems - one is for the *batteries*. All the normal accessories are electrically powered - brakes, A/C, and so on. There is also a 12v battery for the low current stuff, charged by a switcher off the big boy.

Auto interiors are hard to take pictures of - glare, depth of focus issues. I apologize in advance, but the inside of this thing is pretty nice. Too bad my camera can't really give a good view from the driver's seat - to get reasonable I had to get in the back seat for some of these.
Dash.jpg
I note the dash is color, high rez, and quite visible even in very full sun. And it's not the only color screen of decent size in there.
MoreDash.jpg
This one is the radio, a DVD movie player, navigation, and ...the output of cameras that help you park in tight places...

I'm the guy who put those miles on the odometer (all but the usual 5-6) and you can see how much battery is still left. The engine in this has yet to run outside of test mode(!).
Too keep the bandwidth down just a little, I'm omitting some of my attempts to show things like that middle display showing cameras, my failed attempt to get good pix from under the car, suspension details and so on. (For now, next time I go over they'll put it on a lift for me so I can get those).

So, I put those miles on there myself, with the salesman (Mike Sowers), and my wife in tow - nice full load (they are normal sized and weight people unlike me). Was it fun? Hell yes! First we drove it all over the city, then back to the cool places to really abuse the thing. It did great in the city. The first thing you notice is the instant torque, of which there's plenty to make a dodgy turn across trafiic and squeal the tires, and right after that just how silent this thing is. And I'm not just talking about the lack of engine noise, which is kind of to be expected (this has zero whine btw), but lack of all noise - wind, tire and so on. It's just silent in there. You can run the stereo (which kicks too) quite softly and still hear how good it is, and not have to raise your voice over it or road noise (or both) to communicate inside the car. Even after having owned some full sized luxo-barge luxury cars -- this is something special. On examination, a decent part of the weight budget (those tradeoffs) was put into making it this quiet -- no undamped surfaces whatever. It drove in city traffic just about like the Cruze does, which means "it's real good". Able to make a U turn in a two lane road without backing and filling, quick off the line, easy to accidentally break the speed laws...perfect. Stops like you were having the wreck - bam, you're stopped and I mean right now, very short distances and times there. No, it's not a hot rod, but it has most of the same feel and capability. Handling is awesome due to the usual suspects -- good suspension, brakes, tires. But the center of gravity is so low on this thing, I can't recall anything that seemed like it had a lower roll center. Very tight, no sway on quick "transient response" tests - you can't move the wheel faster than this can respond. Steering is full electric power steering, just like the Cruze and I'd not have known if I hadn't looked in either case, you get some road feel through it, but it's very easy when stopped.

Pinkerton was nice enough to let me abuse this a bit, so we went back to the lot for that - they have a large back 40 just for things like that. I haven't yet fully exercised all the modes, but it does the opposite lock boogie just fine thanks, and at the end of a slide, there's little to no rock-back...Better than the Camaro on that one. It has various computer modes for the drivetrain and traction/slide controls, which I've not yet exercised. But GM has finally learned that us old school guys don't like a computer that has just one setting and always knows best. There are three settings for the engine performance from econo to "make tire smoke", and similar ability to decide if you want to let it slide, or perhaps save you from spinning out in bad traction. Very nice - and gheez, why did it take so long? Like I've said about the Camaro -- "back in the day" in this case, the '70's, we racers used to bench-race about "what would be the very ideal street rod" and now there's that Camaro. Took awhile, but they got it, down to the details of head ports and cam timing, suspension, transmission, tires. And now this...another winner. I guess fear of bankruptcy let them put the real engineers in charge or something like that.

Oh by the way, it rides better than the Cruze, the Camaro (well, it would) and even my luxo truck. All that weight in the floor and a good sprung/unsprung weight ratio.

I'll discuss some of the tradeoffs, and why the ones they made are the right ones next post. One way or another, one of these is heading for my driveway very soon.
Posting as just me, not as the forum owner. Everything I say is "in my opinion" and YMMV -- which should go for everyone without saying.
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Re: GM's new Volt - design tradeoffs

Postby Doug Coulter » Mon Oct 17, 2011 2:23 pm

Anything like this involves a lot of balancing this vs that, what we engineers call "trading off". There's usually a place where the "curves cross", which gets trickier and trickier the more of them there are. GM really seems to get it, and got this pretty doggone right.

The "big problem" with autos is the peak to average ratio of things. One moment you need all it can deliver, the next you're coasting downhill. You want good tires and brakes, but if those get heavy, you have to have the suspension moving the car when they hit a bump to keep them under control. You want it quiet, but that adds weight. You want low CG for handling, but you can't always get the weight low - glass is heavier than metal up top, you need insulation to keep the climate control task possible, and engines are the size they are (and you need ground clearance!).

Let's start with a pure electric car. Battery capacity/weight is paramount. You try to do the best you can by using the best battery tech there is, and of course they did. Now, you'd like to keep series resistance losses low, but that adds weight (more conductor). But think of that peak to average ratio -- wouldn't it be better to design for the average, and then handle cooling for peak loads? That's what they did - batteries have a cooling system... Electric motors, while having a nice torque curve, don't have a ton of absolute torque unless they are either large in diameter, or very long. You can solve some of this with gears, but they have losses themselves. GM's earlier effort spun the electric motor very fast and used a high ratio to get the motor size down, but it whined to drive you crazy. This one is small to be sure (I never got a real good look at it directly) but no whine. I suspect they used later tech for that, but there's still a limit in the 20k gauss region for how strong any magnetic field with iron type pole pieces can be - the limit. I'm suspecting they wound up with pretty tight clearances in there to get the torque they get. It does have a transmission, though I never felt it shifting. That makes sense - the computer can handle the motor torque quite finely and make the shift impulse just not happen, and in this case, that's what happens. Maybe I'd feel it on a full throttle test to 75 mph, which I didn't get to do yet, but the low speed acceleration told me it wasn't going to be a test it would fail -- plenty of power for any normal driving, and plenty to do "cowboy" things in city traffic, it should extrapolate just fine to merging onto a highway - probably not as well as the Cruze, which is frankly amazing that way - going to this test drive I found that out when I inadvertently broke 100mph in the Cruze and discovered that unlike the Camao, it's not that stable in high crosswinds at that speed (no surprise there). I suspect the Volt won't have that problem due to the weight.

Now, the Volt, due to all this efficient stuff, has a decent range -- I put at least 25 mi on it, and some of that was "abuse", and it's still showing 21 mi left in "normal" mode, the middle of the three tradeoff modes (there's econo, and hot rod also). But that range is scary to a lot of people, even though it would make my 20 mi beer store commute a couple of times round trip most likely; a lot of that is flat driving along the river, you just cruise, or would that be cruze? The obvious solution to that is to have a backup way to keep going if you run low on electricity.

Now we get into the real tradeoffs, and why hybrids even exist. You need your backup to be able to run the car, totally, as if the batteries weren't there. It must have reasonable horsepower for that. But internal combustion engines are heavy, and besides, really only hit good efficiency in a narrow band - even GM's ecotec with variable cam timing (over 100% volumetric efficiency) still gets 0 mpg when stopped at idle. All IC engines do poorly efficiency-wise when putting out power at the low end of their range. So you'd like to create a situation where you don't run it much below full output some way. That's the point of most hybrids. You use the electrics to get the peaks, and the gas engine running hard to get your average. That's nice, but if you don't have large batteries, the engine winds up running a lot more than maybe you'd like for efficiency and its life. Unlike the tiny batteries in a Prius, this car can be battery only for a lot of things, or battery-mostly, which I like better as a design, if you can have it - and obviously you can -- the existence-proof is pictured above with about half left after me abusing it for an hour and 25 or so miles. I hope I get to hear that engine run on a subsequent drive!

Anyone who "knows" batteries for deep cycle use knows you don't want to abuse them - run them all the way down, or try to rapid charge them - it takes their cycle life away. Since a taper type charge on these would be very inefficient, the GM design doesn't do that with the IC engine - it just kicks in (so I'm told) only when the batteries get low, and keeps them from getting lower, probably charging them back up to 50% or so tops. That's a good design for the car - the electricity at your house is cheaper for that topping off process -- free at my solar powered one after all.

And that's the one thing I want to get GM's help with on hacking this device (super tuning). That's integrating it with a full on solar PV/battery/inverter system that I have already. You can't command the engine/generator in this to run - you have to wait to run down the batteries in the car. I want to circumvent that on mine. I don't really want to cycle the exotic battery in that thing when I use it as a house backup, even if my house loading is far, far, less than normal usage in a car would be (1 hp is plenty to run my house, with some left over to charge my main batteries as that Honda generator has proven quite nicely). But we do have these weeks of darkness sometimes, or just a few days when there's a foot or more snow on the solar panels, and I really don't feel like going up on an iced up roof to scrape them -- a reliable backup generator for those few times, one that was really designed to last, out in the weather, would be really sweet - and if it was in the driveway already = now that's my definition of cool. I suppose I could just use a big switcher off the 360 volt pack to do the house, then let the engine kick in on the next drive, but that cycles the expensive (and probably breaks warranty on) the big car batteries needlessly. In this case, I wouldn't mind the lower efficiency of only using a small fraction of the HP the Volt ecotec engine has -- and my house batteries can really "take it" if I want to get it done quick - I could use 20hp for that and not damage those huge submarine batteries.

So, I'm bugging everyone I can over at GM to get me an NDA and in touch with their engineers - if I can get some info on how to do this (I'm sure their shop manuals just say replace this if the computer says that, not really the level of info on this I want) -- that car is in my driveway the next day. Most of the year I wind up turning things on, or just disconnecting the solar array by noon most days, letting about 4kw just be lost...plenty to charge this thing so the issue would be the gasoline getting stale before I need it! Actually, GM thought of that too - the gas tank is held under vacuum to keep the gas from oxidizing in the tank under long storage...they thought ahead on that, at least for my use.

Yeah, I don't really need another car - something else would probably go to get this, just to have space and so on. But when it seems like they designed one just for you - it's awful hard to resist.
Damn, free transport, fuel wise. Isn't that something the entire world is moaning about just about now? Who thinks that's going to get substantially better in the near future?
Posting as just me, not as the forum owner. Everything I say is "in my opinion" and YMMV -- which should go for everyone without saying.
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Re: GM's new Volt

Postby chrismb » Mon Oct 17, 2011 2:55 pm

The VM's have had plenty input from bright engineers asking for some 'intelligence' to be allowed in the charge cycle. I'll give you an example; put on the dashboard a button that you press that then prevents the engine from starting until fully discharged, because the driver will get to know whereabouts in his route he can use up the 'left-over' elec to make it home and recharge there. I believe back in the 90's, Citroen has already installed mains sockets in some of its early vehicles when they were trying out 42V (as in, sold to real customers).

But all this stuff is flat-out of no interest to the VM's, I'm afraid, Doug. They won't do it. It's a different world up there in corporation-land. You think those companies are run by engineers who give a damn, or accountants who don't? They are selling to a million muppets with 10000x more dollars than brain cells who'd buy it simply because they are told that it is more economical/environmental/whatever.

Incidentally, in regards torque, I am currently involved in a project developing a motor that develops 750Nm for direct drive to a car wheel (no gearbox required) and weighs 25kg. Cool, or what!? There is so much more tech that can feed into EV's that it will amaze you, but with a limit on neodymium and problematic sources of electrical power, these realities are going to hit the dream hard. All this could have been done years ago, and the only reason it is making sense now is because of vast Government support. I fear for the future of EV's when the pump-priming by Govts stops, unless we get on with putting a nuclear reactor in every town, someone invents an affordable 1T magnet from common materials, and rechargeable batteries become safer, cheaper, lighter and an order-of-mag more reliable.

Enjoy the engineer's dream now, Doug, before it becomes unrealistic (again). Don't misunderstand me, I don't see any alternative to a future of mass personalised transportation, but the issue is that I don't see a future for personalise mass transportation.
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Re: GM's new Volt

Postby Doug Coulter » Mon Oct 17, 2011 3:09 pm

I'm in touch with Bob Lutz, Chevy's champion of the idea that engineers, rather than bean counters should have the design input. He's now retired, but still plenty connected in there.
I'm also working up from the other end -- someone will come through. At this point, all I need is info from an engineer. If GM later wants to incorporate any of this, fine with me, I just want mine at this point, though I bet I'd make for a great marketing meme for them if their marketing has a clue (have no idea on that one). But it really seems like they put the lunatics in charge of the asylum when they were threatened with the end of the world - maybe a few survived. Chrysler did the same thing, but their crazies were just crazy, not talented.

As a serial offender CEO who make quite a few million bucks consulting for the big corps, I know how all that works. And it looks a lot different depending on where you are in the org chart.
At the bottom it's as you describe, up past middle management or so. At the top, heck, it's so different I probably shouldn't reveal details, but a lot gets done on a lark...over a beer, and "the little people" get orders from stiff necked middle management to make it come true later. The culture varies with company but even more with layer inside any particular one, I've found. I'd bet in this case that thing is priced below their cost, and the whole exercise is marketing, actually. Their last one was. Why should my Camaro cost less than half a 'Vette, when it's the same car except with a much cheaper to produce body?

People who basically are rich beyond belief and can't really lose their jobs think differently than middle management...knowing that is one of the ways you do well dealing with them. They can spot a "little people" a mile away...It requires a bit of subtlety to "get" what I'm saying here - but I know the turf.

Remember -- a 480hp Camaro (and now, 550 hp supercharged is coming soon - with liberal/greenies running the show here in the USA) was designed and built (they'd discontinued the marque due to it not being "green") during a time when gasoline was at all time highs here ($140bbl USA, it's $86 now in dollars that are worth much less)...it's not quite all as you'd think = and you might not believe it unless you'd been there, as I have. People used to think I was the son of the guys I was consulting with, because no one looking like me got into their offices otherwise(!). In some cases, not even into the same building.

And most people know I don't have my PV solar system because it's green -- or my appearance because I'm a flaming liberal..those are fun, but there are other reasons for those things.

For what it's worth -- one feature of this thing I need to disable it the ability of the power company to broadcast a "disable charger" signal to it...Since I'll never have it plugged into the grid.
Posting as just me, not as the forum owner. Everything I say is "in my opinion" and YMMV -- which should go for everyone without saying.
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Re: GM's new Volt

Postby johnf » Tue Oct 18, 2011 4:43 am

Yes
But where is the flux capacitor??
and what happens at 88 miles per hour???


Go get em Doug
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Re: GM's new Volt

Postby Doug Coulter » Tue Oct 18, 2011 9:24 am

Didn't get it to 88 (but I will if it will). We'll have to get it up on a lift to see if we can find the flux cap under there. Hell, I need to bring some security torx drivers to even get a peek at the huge switching supplies in there. I thought the Camaro was "no user serviceable parts" but this one has the plastic covers screwed down with anti-tamper bolts, not just pull off. I also want to find out if the battery cooling system also handles the electric motor. Pretty sure the IC engine one is just for that; it only has two coolant overflow tanks.

What I'm trying to do is see if I can get "super tuner" status on this - GM has long done that and supported dealers and others for their hot rods -- and it pays in rabid fans -- why not this?

As a super-tuner you get access to all sorts of goodies - info from the design team, any special parts designs they did during the development, some input to what they should offer, and what they've tried that didn't work - saves a ton of effort and money.

For example, I was able to send the Camaro to a dealer (Tom Henry in Texas) on the way to me for various tweaks, factory approved, that added some horses and changed some suspension constants. So the thing was built in Canada, tuned in TX, then shipped to the middle (VA) where I live, all done already when I took delivery. Everyone makes money (well, I paid for it all), everyone is happy, warranty intact, I get some special underhood goodies and badges that show it's "special" - we all win. "Everyone wins" deals are the easiest to make happen in the real world, so I'm hoping this can happen.

The big question is: Does GM even want to sell a lot of these? They may not make money on it, and be doing it as a publicity exercise end to end. Sure helps their corporate average fuel economy (CAFE), which is something our car manuf's pay fines for not having good enough...and of course the average pollution -- hard to pollute with an engine that doesn't even run most of the time, and runs near-on the efficiency peak when it does.

The government here gives you an $8500 tax credit off the top for buying one, but if I do this as "my business" the entire thing is also tax deductible as a cost of doing business...brings the effective price down a bit. When you hear the rich don't pay enough taxes, stuff like that has a lot to do with it. Why be stupid? The same breaks apply to the not-rich, they just don't educate themselves, the real problem (which is highly correlated with not-rich for other obvious reasons).
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Re: GM's new Volt

Postby chrismb » Tue Oct 18, 2011 11:28 am

Doug Coulter wrote:The big question is: Does GM even want to sell a lot of these? They may not make money on it, and be doing it as a publicity exercise end to end.


This was the point I was trying to raise. Yes, of course if you have the right contacts you can do anything, but [certainly at the moment] these are 'trophy' vehicles and are not for tampering. This is because of a whole string of laws (not just in the US/UK, but everywhere) since the days you are hankering after which have the effect of making liable companies for 'misadventures' with their kit.

The projects I am involved with at work, I am currently working with several companies who are all looking to make EV's a reality. Most are motor-making companies fitting them to existing rolling shells, or vehicle makers looking to integrate EV traction packages. So if I thought that OEM's would be willing to deal with end-users 'tampering' their systems, I would definitely expect these more 'project' based companies to do it - and they won't. Too much power involved, too many risks. How many people do you know have died from touching diesel? See the problem!?

Battery cooling varies for the technology, most are moving to lithium tech and they tend to use 'intelligent' thermal management (shifting around the [heat] loads in the pattery packs) and air cooling. Most traction motors are liquid cooled, usually glocol but some run coolant oils. But some batteries need all the heat they can get. Zebra batteries were popular in EVs a few years back, still some use them. These run at ~300C all the time (which is actually an improvement on earlier molten salt batteries that would be kept at 400C).
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Re: GM's new Volt

Postby chrismb » Tue Oct 18, 2011 11:31 am

FWIW, for EVs to make progress, I think the only configuration that makes sense is a short 20 mile range type vehicle (poss, with optional 40/60 mile packs, to tune the car for your own personal commute distance) with a turbine-generator pack for range extention. Fuel cells have made good progress but are still struggling with certain issues that casts a little doubt on their long-term service performance on the road. For now, I expect we'll see a complete 'de-coupling' of a regular ICE from the road wheels (series hybrid - like the Chevy Volt, I believe) and instead it will down-size and just serve as a range extender. One advantage is that you don't need to run the Otto cycle but can run other cycles. Does the Volt use the Atkinson cycle, like the Prius?

(PS; All the options above have already become a reality, but are still 'trophy' cars.)

I am told the Nissan Leaf is also a very well packaged EV. Maybe you could try that out too, and report back your comparison.
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Re: GM's new Volt

Postby Joe Jarski » Tue Oct 18, 2011 12:11 pm

Doug, Do you have any idea what kind of power the heater draws on that when there's snow on the ground? That's something I've wondered about. Maybe there's enough excess from the cooling system to use.

chrismb wrote:I think the only configuration that makes sense is a short 20 mile range type vehicle

Dang, that'll get me into town and then a few miles back if I don't make too many stops. I hope I don't have to go to the big town. :)
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Re: GM's new Volt

Postby Doug Coulter » Tue Oct 18, 2011 12:40 pm

Actually, this is a case where Chris is right about the bean counters, though it conflicts with his range statement above -- he forgets that like most of my international visitors say, "this country is just real big and everything is too far apart". It's a 20 mile round trip to the beer store (You know, you've driven that route while visiting) but it has a serious hill climb at the end of the return leg.
The bean counters knew it wouldn't sell with less range.

With Tesla claiming longer ranges and better performance (there's some doubt they really are that good, but they're so expensive no one finds out) - GM hit a good spot on practical range.
Of course, the ideal would be to not need the IC engine and it's generator and their weight - that would range extend some to lose that weight for pure battery running. But so many people want to be able to just jump in a car, and go "anyplace" - they usually don't, but it's a big fantasy here - the idea you can call "road trip!" and just go do it immediately.

When I lived in the Washington DC area (all one huge city sprawled out into the two adjoining states) I went about 40 mi each way to work. That's about the minimum to live out of a high crime zone (with decent housing prices - close in is out of this world for rents) and still have a job around there. Not too far off in most large cities I'd guess.

Other than the Prius, which seems seriously under-batteried (battery range is measured in meters, not miles), GM has the only truly long range solution where everything is right-sized. I'd never need it - I wouldn't take that on a long trip, probably, I'd do something much more "luxury barge" like my truck, if I've got to be in the thing for days. Well, not so sure about that, with the 50mpg kind of numbers, a long trip in that gets much more attractive. Unless you enjoy napping in a reclined bucket seat, not so good for that, though. In the truck I can stretch out full length comfortably - that's worth a few MPG, but maybe not that many (truck is terrible on gasoline- you couldn't afford to own that thing in Europe where you pay 4x what we do for fuel, and it's not that easy here).

On the heater, it's a heat pump off the A/C, but yeah, it probably eats the big watts, no way around that. I did note that all the sound deadening insulation is also thermal insulation. Trying to condition most cars is like trying to do the out of doors, they really worked that one over here. But there's still a ton of glass. The Cruze got a similar treatment, but at even its level of economy it has trouble making enough waste heat to get warm when it's really cold, or enough AC to get cold when it's really hot. Breaks of that game I suppose. I grew up in a time when I didn't get spoiled by perfect air conditioning, so I'm ok with all that. I kind of expect to have to wear a coat in winter, and not too much in summer.
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